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Billington: Out of sight, but vital to operating room

By Greg Gelpi

Patients under the surgeon's scalpel may not notice him, but ask anyone in the operating room and they'll immediately praise him for his part on the medical staff.

John Billington, an operating room assistant at Southern Regional Medical Center, stocks operating rooms with medicines and supplies, cleans medical instruments and assists surgeons with various tasks.

Without hesitation, surgeons call for Billington, a 25-year veteran, to hurry into the operating room and bring in supplies.

"I like to take care of people," he said.

In and out of about 50 operating rooms a day, Billington said he is comfortable seeing people with their bodies cut open during surgery, but he wasn't always.

"I was kind of afraid when I first walked into an operating room," he said. "I was a little nervous about it at first. I had never seen a body opened up before."

Sketched in his mind is an image of walking into an operating room and seeing a person's thigh laying cut open.

"I guess I kind of got used to it," Billington said. "I can see anything now."

Although Billington was short on words, his coworkers were not.

Scurrying in and out of the operating room break area, streams of operating room staff praised Billington.

"If you could cut him into pieces, everybody would want one," Judy Dickens, a staff nurse, said. "Everybody up here respects him, and that is hard to come by."

Billington responds to calls even when doctors and nurses

don't ask for him to ensure that their needs are met, she said.

"They never have a problem if he is assigned to their area," Dickens said. "He's the most efficient, reliable person in here. When he was in housekeeping, they didn't want to let him go."

Billington worked in housekeeping for 22 years before becoming an operating room assistant.

Just saying his name sets off a flurry of chatter and excitement in the break room. Fellow operating room workers raved about Billington as a person and as a worker.

"When you mention his name, everybody stops," Operating Room Tech Cynthia Hymon said. "He doesn't just come when someone calls him. He'll stop to help everybody."

Hymon called Billington a "reliable, courteous perfect gentleman."

Although he arrives at work at 6 a.m. and doesn't stop until his shift ends, the smile on his face never waivers.

"You have to make the day what you want it to be," Billington said.

Showing his modesty with every word, he said the best part of his job is the people he works with.

"There's not one person in the whole (operating room) that would say anything negative about him," David James, who has worked with Billington for 20 years, said. "I'd work with him anytime."

Billington has been married for 32 years and has two grown children. When not at Southern Regional, he said he enjoys hanging out in Buckhead, sightseeing and football, adding that he was a quarterback for his high school football team.

Before joining the staff of Southern Regional, Billington made bleach at a Purex plant for 15 years.

"I stopped by (Southern Regional) to make a little Christmas money and have been here ever since," he said.